Indian Court Rejects Novartis’ Challenge to Country’s Patent Law
An Indian court on Monday rejected Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis' challenge to a section of the country's Patents Act that aims to restrict certain kinds of patents, Reuters India reports (Murari, Reuters India, 8/6). India's patent law, which went into effect in January 2005, allows patents for products that are new inventions developed after 1995, when India joined the World Trade Organization, or for an updated drug that exhibits improved efficacy. Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss in April urged Novartis to withdraw its challenge over concern that it could disrupt the global supply of antiretroviral drugs. Novartis also brought a civil lawsuit against the Indian government after the country in January 2006 rejected the company's attempt to patent a new version of its leukemia drug Gleevec on the basis that the drug is a new formulation of an existing drug.
Although some Indian drug companies and groups say that Gleevec is a new formulation of a drug developed before 1995, Novartis says that it is an improved drug. If Novartis wins the case, it potentially could set a precedent for other pharmaceutical companies seeking patent protection for drugs, including antiretrovirals, some HIV/AIDS advocates have said. Novartis in May said it would wait for the court's ruling in the case before deciding how to proceed (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/16).
The court in its ruling said that it does not have jurisdiction over whether Indian patent laws complied with the WTO's intellectual property laws. According to Reuters India, Novartis said that it likely will not appeal the decision. A Novartis spokesperson said the company does not agree with the ruling, adding that the company "await[s] the full decision to better understand the court's position." A Novartis statement said the ruling would "have long-term negative consequences for research and development into better medicines for patients in India and abroad." According to some critics of the Novartis case, changes to India's patent laws could have affected the supply of affordable antiretrovirals from India. "We absolutely welcome this court order," Leena Menghaney of Medecins Sans Frontieres in India said. She added, "It basically means fewer patents will be granted by the Indian patent office, and that means more affordable drugs can be produced by Indian manufacturers" (Reuters India, 8/6).